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Battling Beauties; Russia's Elgin Marbles in USA?

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This is a 'spin-off' topic from my earlier posting about the upcoming (Dec. 15, 2004) restoration of the Soviet-era (ca 1952) Konstantin Sergeyev version of 'Sleeping Beauty' to the regularly-performed repertoire of the Kirov-Mariinsky Theater. The performance will star young Olesya Novikova as Aurora (her debut in the full role) and Leonid Sarafanov as Desire. However, most of the 'press' is being garnered by the dancer who will perform the role of the Lilac Fairy: Uliana Lopatkina.

Why? Because Lopatkina -- along with many other senior & 'recently-retired' K-M dancers -- has been very vocal (to media & others) about her disdain for the reconstruction of Petipa-era ballets by Sergei Vikharev, assisted by Tim Scholl and other American scholars expert in reading the Stepanov-notation "Nikolai Sergeyev Notebooks" now housed at Harvard University. The reconstructed works -- mainly the 1890 Sleeping Beauty and the 1900 Bayadere -- have supplanted the long-known and beloved (to Soviet audiences) versions of ballets staged by Konstantin Sergeyev and others, during the 1940s and 50s.

Among the rumblings heard around town (St Petersburg):

* Russian Nationalism: The notebooks at Harvard are Russia's equivalent of the Elgin Marbles -- artistic treasures that belong to Russia, not to America [hmmm...they may have a point there...but the notebooks made it to the USA through legal acquisitions/bequeathments...the only 'illegal' link in the chain was Nikolai Sergeyev's stealing of the notebooks before the Revolution, when he emigrated to the UK (or whereever he went first with those notebooks).]

* Russian-vs-American Scholars: Who are the Americans to send scholars who can supplant our beloved 'Russian' versions of the classics? Why weren't Russian scholars employed to decipher the notebooks? [They seem to forget Vikharev's key role in this. Vikharev is not American!]

* The Poor Russian Economy: It was a slap in the face of Russians, struggling in the post-Aug 1998 collapse of the ruble, to spend million$ on a frivolous production during the months immediately following that collpse...just to satisfy 'ignorant' Americans' appetite for (& the Metropolitan Opera's wish for) a new, deluxe production. [Those complainers forget that hundreds of craftspeople & dressmakers in St Pete earned much-needed gainful employment due to this production.]

* Management's Maintenance of Secrecy Until Well into the Project: The 'news' about the switch of productions -- shelving the beloved Soviet version & taking-on the 'gaudy American-influenced' version -- came as last-minute news to most of the dancers...giving it all a foul taste of 'conspiracy.' Apparently most dancers & local ballet-going public found out the truth just as the final performance of the 'Soviet' version was about to take place in Winter 98/99, causing a mad dash for tickets & a protest.

...fast-forward almost six years...

On Dec 15, 2004, the balletomanes of St Pete are about to see their beloved Soviet beauty awakened. It is being hailed by many 'balletomanes on the street' as a nationalistic triumph for RUSSIA vs. the gaudy tastelessness of 'New Russians' (& Americans & other westerners) who go cheered productions such as the 1890 Sleeping Beauty reconstruction that permiered in April 1999.

Lopatkina is not alone; she is just the most visible dancer. The overwhelming majority of stars ("Generation of the 70s') who graduated in the mid- to late-70s & during the 1980s...people who remember & love dancers-teachers Natalia Dudinskaya & Konstatin Sergeyev, as well as legendary Soviet designer Simon Virsaladze...have been waiting for this moment when the beloved Soviet 'Beauty' would return, in-full, to the stage of the Kirov Mariinsky. [Parts were performed during a tribute to Natalia Dudinskaya in November 2002 but this was considered not a regular item in the repertoire but, rather, a special performance.]

It's happening in just one week. I look forward to hearing & reading reports!


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p.s. to the above -

For English-language readers interested in the intricacies of this topic, I recommend the book:

"Sleeping Beauty," A Legend in Progress

by Tim Scholl; pub. April 2004 (available on Amazon.com & elsewhere)

Scholl was one of the American notator-scholars involved in the 1998/99 reconstruction of the 'new/old' Beauty. It's a very well researched book if, understandably, slanted to the 'pro-reconstruction' point-of-view. I agree with a lot of what he wrote but see the Russian 'balletomane-on-the-street' perspective, too, which is greatly minimized in the tome.

- NN

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But Natalia, the Sergeyev Beauty HAS been performed in its entirety since 1999, apart from the Dudinskaya galas. In fact it was performed in January of this year I believe. What's new is Lopatakina and what we may be seeing is Gergiev's phasing her in as director or co-director of the ballet.

The 1952 Beauty was performed at the Mariinsky January 21, 2004.

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I'm not so sure, t. There may have been an odd tribute to a veteran teacher...but not in the normal rep. I lived in Russia all of last yr & attended Beauties in Jan, March & dur White Nights -- all during first half of '04 -- and it was always the 1890 version. Sorry.

p.s. - I do remember hearing from friends that the Mariinsky website made an error in announcing one of two January 2004 Beauties as being of the 1952 Soviet version, while the posters and literature in the theater were correct -- it was the 1890 new-old Beauty. That goes to show you how even the merest rumor of the restoration of the 1952 version sent people scampering about last January!

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I don't believe that they will, thal, but will probably become the Kirov's 'Plan B' for Beauty...performed less often than 'Plan A' (the hometown-beloved Sovietsky version).

One possibility is that the restored Bayadere & Beauty be reserved just for touring; the Soviet hometown versions stay at home. Maybe?

One REALLY WEIRD theory I've heard, from someone who was drinking lots of vodka at the time, is that perhaps Gergiev will sell the production (sets, costumes, & the right to stage the 1890 steps) to the highest-bidding US or European troupe. I wouldn't take that seriously but goes to show you the nuttiness of this discussion among locals.

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I'd call the equating of the Sergeyev Notebooks and the Elgin Marbles a bit of a strained parallel. The latter are beautiful in themselves. The former are rather unprepossessing, to say the least. They really can be understood only by working at the notation, which is far from undoable, it just isn't appreciable by most people, just as most people cannot learn to appreciate Tchaikovsky by reading the scores, if they don't read music. It is almost a yearning for gnosis, of a "secret knowledge" contained in the books. It's not there.

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maybe. just kind of confusing. the business of the elgin marbles, for instance, isn't it part of how lord elgin brought them physically to britain and because people want them returned? they represent a cultural heritage physically. the notebooks at harvard are certainly part of a cultural heritage, but what they contain, for instance, is not any great secret; the physical notebooks may belong to harvard but they are not inaccessible.

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Yes, it is. Elgin did some fast-and-loose maneuvers during a war for independence in Greece in order to gain custody of the frieze from authorities who may or may not have had authority at the time to vend such. Sergeyev's notebooks are certainly not inaccessible; I've examined them cursorily myself.

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Devil's advocate here - the Elgin Marbles are of course very accessible, as they are located in a free national museum in one of the tourist centers of the world and they have been well preserved as they have not been exposed to the very high pollution of 20th century Athens.

I'm no expert on the topic but I do think that the colonial 'robber-travellers' did believe that the cultural heritage of the Ancient world represented by items like the Elgin Marbles and the Obelisks, etc was also their heritage and by bringing these items to the West, they could be presented in all their glory.

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To return to the subject of the new/old Beauty: I'm in the process of reading Scholl's book, which is tough going -- it's the worst kind of turgid academic writing, and contains inconsistencies and areas of vagueness -- but the material it covers is fascinating. His argument, in a nutshell, is that The Sleeping Beauty has acquired mythical status in the history of Russian ballet (his subtitle is "A Legend in Progress") and that the 1917 revolution caused a schism in the ballet's history: the authentic text went West with Nikolai Sergeyev ("the most reviled man in Russian ballet") and that Soviet stagers made politically-motivated changes to the Petersburg production that have come to be accepted by Russian audiences as the real thing. I don't want to comment much more on the book until I finish it, but as a lover of the 1999 reconstruction, I'm finding most of Scholl's arguments pretty convincing.

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I'd call the equating of the Sergeyev Notebooks and the Elgin Marbles a bit of a strained parallel.  The latter are beautiful in themselves.  The former are rather unprepossessing, to say the least. 

I see what you mean, Mel...but that's not my point. The point is that the knowledge contained in the notebooks -- which apparently isn't duplicated elsewhere in Russia in any other known notebooks -- is part of Russia's cultural patrimony. The great Soviet-era ballet historians, such as Vera Krassovskaya (since departed this world), were deeply offended that the knowledge fell into the hands of non-Russian ballet specialists. [scholl, of course, has little good to say about Krassovskaya...the doyenne of Soviet ballet historians!] This is a simple version of the events; it's much more complicated, of course.

On the other hand...

The Mariinsky owns the flip-side of the equation: the complete, arranged orchestral scores to which the notated ballets are danced. Russia also 'owns' much of the designs. So no non-Russian troupe can perform the complete ballets without some sort of copyright infringement...even if they try to set ballets via the notebooks.

p.s. When Doug Fullington used the notebooks to stage the "Jardin Anime" section of Corsaire on the Pacific NW Ballet's school last year, it was not an attempt to reproduce the designs or full orchestral arrangement (if memory serves). All he could do was present the steps.

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Unless there's some sort of special proviso that has been argued for the retention of copyright to the scores of the notated ballets, they are public domain, as they were created before 1926. The same must be said of the newly-made sets and costumes made from the original art. The modern things might be copyright, but the originals are in the clear. I don't really care where the Sergeyev notebooks reside as long as the information contained therein remains accessible, whether by microform, digital reproduction or whatever means. The Russian arts establishment has not been exactly forthcoming with the materials they have, whether by accident or design, and it would be a sad thing for the world if these data were swallowed up by a corporate mechanism only slightly more willing to share information than the KGB.

If we allow this sort of patrimonic argument, we might as well send the notebooks to France, as Petipa was, after all, a Frenchman. He just happened to work in Russia.

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Natalia, if the Russian public so dislikes the production made from Sergeyev's notation, why do they want it back?

They don't! That's the crazy thing here. The resentment about the 'notes' being in US hands only comes from the scholars & writers who wish THEY'D have the sole right to review and inspect the precious documents. A few good Ph.D. dissertations could come from this, after all.

Dancers & public could not give a hoot about the notes and would be delighted to never again have to set eyes on the 'new/old' Beauty or Bayadere!

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The resentment about the 'notes' being in US hands only comes from the scholars & writers who wish THEY'D have the sole right to review and inspect the precious documents.  A few good Ph.D. dissertations could come from this, after all.

Thank heaven that these folk aren't archivists and librarians. That's why it's a good thing that the books are where they are, where the information is freely available to all who ask.

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